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One Year Out: Rail, rates and renewal questions for 2016 ACT election

Canberra Liberals leader Jeremy Hanson has welcomed the 2016 election being a referendum on light rail and responsible spending, but has also promised his party would not cut services to return to surplus if it won power.

As the one-year mark to the ACT election was passed on Thursday, Mr Hanson promised to avoid the politically toxic measures of Liberal governments led by Tony Abbott and Campbell Newman, saying he was optimistic his "competent, stable and united" team could win government after 15 years. 

But Chief Minister Andrew Barr fired back, saying the ACT's "progressive majority" would be unwilling to back the "most conservative Liberal branch in the country".

"Jeremy Hanson is no Malcolm Turnbull," he said. 

"We'll be reminding all the progressive voters in Canberra just how conservative this Liberal Party is."

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Mr Hanson said Labor's $783 million light rail proposal for Gungahlin to Civic – with an extension to Russell a potential pre-election addition – would be the defining issue of the vote, with the Liberals promising more than just a "no" campaign. 

"The question will be do you want light rail, or do you want a comprehensive suite of alternatives, which includes health, education, public transport and infrastructure, and is prudent spending for all Canberrans?

"We would endeavour to deliver surpluses, but not at the expense of cutting any services."

He declined to provide a time frame on when a first Liberal surplus would be, and said he did not believe Mr Barr's 2018-19 forecast to return to the black. 

Mr Barr said the competing light rail policies would be a deciding factor for some voters, but doubted the election would hang on the issue.

"I would always caution that the issues that tend to decide elections in the ACT, time after time, have been on health, education and economic management," he said. 

The reforming treasurer said his next five-year plan for rates, outlined next June, would disprove the Liberals' claims the staged phasing out of stamp duty and insurance taxes from 2012 will have forced rates to triple within 11 years. He said the community were the winners from the move to more efficient taxation, including through better housing affordability

"Moving house is a fairly common thing, once in seven years on average in Canberra, so it's a big [stamp duty] tax we're relieving from people," he said. 

"The rate of increase will be lower in the future because we will have completed the most significant part of tax reform – there will be five, six, seven, eight elections between now and when rates might triple."

Mr Hanson said the benefit of the doubt some Canberrans gave Labor on rates in 2012 would not be repeated after the evidence of recent hikes, with a dozen suburbs having rises of about 60 per cent in four years. The average rise has been 42 per cent, including an average 9 per cent this financial year. 

"Other people who thought that generally they didn't mind paying additional rates, because they're prepared to invest in health, education and local services, those people are equally angry because they didn't expect their rates to be put into light rail," he said. 

If ACT Labor were to succeed in winning a fifth straight term, they would become the longest-serving Labor government in the country since the Tasmanian branch's 35-year rule to 1969. But Mr Barr said his team for 2016 would have entirely renewed since 2001. 

On Legislative Assembly experience, excluding the retiring Simon Corbell, the Liberals now have the edge with a combined 60 years to 42. Six of Labor's recontesting MLAs have ministerial experience. Only Brendan Smyth – deputy chief minister under Gary Humphries – has similar service on the Liberal side. 

Mr Hanson said he expected a close election but was "optimistic" about the Liberals' chances, saying light rail was "deeply unpopular" – a Canberra Times survey will detail the latest views on Monday – and Mr Barr had not resonated with the public. 

Liberal alternatives to Labor's tax reform and many policy costings were expected only after the next budget. 

Barr: On light rail: "The 'throw more money at buses' approach has been tried and it hasn't addressed our challenges with congestion." 

On health: "The Liberal Party at the federal level has cut about $50 billion out of health nationally – we're very happy to have a focus on health policy and funding over the next 12 months."

Hanson:

On light rail: "It's not that there's any ideological objection, it's just when you look at light rail it doesn't work for Canberra.

Surpluses: "My focus is much more on driving up the economy to deliver that surplus, not making cuts to services."

On health: "A significant portion of money we won't spend on light rail will go to health – the health system is in crisis in terms of waiting times, beds and staff culture".  

Light rail Hanson's carbon tax: Rattenbury

Greens leader Shane Rattenbury​ said a coalition with the Liberals after the first 25-member election would be unlikely due to their "Abbott-style" unpicking of progressive measures. 

"The Liberals are running light rail like Tony Abbott ran the carbon tax issue, when all good policy analysis shows you the right outcome is to proceed," he said.  

"Jeremy is the friendly window dressing to a very conservative ACT Liberal Party."

Mr Hanson and Mr Rattenbury both said they would be open to talks, but the Liberal leader shared the scepticism of any realistic agreement. 

"It's clear that Shane Rattenbury is in many ways the reason there is a tram," he said. 

"I'm not going to go to an election saying we will not proceed with light rail then deviate from those promises to secure government."

Mr Rattenbury said the governing of Labor with the Greens had proven a maturity to the public, but disagreed with Mr Hanson's view there was little policy difference between the two.  

He pointed to the Greens' proposed legislation on medicinal use of cannabis and gambling reform issues as examples.   

The Minister for Territory and Municipal Services, also assisting the Chief Minister on transport reform, Mr Rattenbury said the move to five electorates of five members would make it harder for smaller parties to win seats due to a raised quota, but he was hopeful of extra Greens MLAs after being a "bit unlucky" to drop from four to one in 2012. 

Last rule by one party/coalition of 15 consecutive years or more

NSW: Labor, 1995-2011

VIC: Coalition, 1955-1982

QLD: Country/National Party-led Coalition, 1957-1989

SA: Liberal-Country League coalition, 1933-1965 (but Labor will have ruled from 2002 to 2018 at time of next election)

TAS: Labor, 1998-2014 (with Greens from 2010)

WA: Never

NT: Country Liberal Party, 1974-2001

CW: Coalition, 1949-1972

ACT: Labor, 2001-current (with Greens 2001-2004, 2008-current, Democrats 2001-2004)

MAJOR POLICY POSITIONS

Labor Government

*Light rail – build $783 million, 12-kilometre Capital Metro project from Gungahlin to Civic. Development of further 2.3-kilometre section to Russell to be considered early next year (no public costings yet released for this extension). 

*Health – build sub-acute University of Canberra Public Hospital. In addition, $40.6 million in extra funding across four years for more beds and services, including for new general hospital beds at both The Canberra Hospital and Calvary Hospital and two new intensive care beds at TCH. Calvary Hospital to receive $12.4 million for refurbishment, new operating theatre equipment and imaging equipment, and to open 12 new acute beds. An extra 500 elective surgeries and 500 endoscopy cases to be funded across two years.   

*Roads – as part of suite of Gungahlin road upgrades, install additional lane at all four entries and signalise Barton Highway-Gundaroo Drive-William Slim Drive roundabout. Duplicate Gundaroo Drive from Mirrabei Drive to Gungahlin Drive. Duplicate and upgrade part of Horse Park Drive. $24.6 million to duplicate part of Ashley Drive, Tuggeranong.

*Education – $160 million for modern classrooms and schools, including new North Gungahlin Primary School (opening 2019) and Caroline Chisholm School STEM specialist learning centre. $1 million for feasibility studies into Year 7-10 school in North Gungahlin and a primary to year 10 school in Molonglo. $13.3 million for new CIT Tuggeranong and upgrades to CIT Bruce and Reid campuses. $3.9 million in funding to help students with disability, including transport to school. 

*$5.4 million for refurbishment of National Convention Centre across two years. 

Liberal Opposition

*Light rail – would stop light rail and has called on Labor not to sign deals pre-election. Will pay out contract in accordance with any cancellation clauses. 

*Public transport – would introduce 50 so-called "super express buses" from suburbs to the city. 

*Health – would build the UC Public Hospital with 200 beds. Would ensure permanent nurses were in each of the ACT's special schools. 

*Roads – build Barton Highway-Gundaroo Drive-William Slim Drive flyover. Duplicate Cotter Road between McCulloch St and Tuggeranong Parkway. Duplicate Gundaroo Drive all the way from Mirrabei Drive to Barton Highway. 

*Justice system – called for dedicated domestic violence court. Would not support needle exchange program in AMC. 

*Planning – would reduce the lease variation charge to zero per cent for four years in Civic and Tuggeranong, Woden, Belconnen and Gungahlin town centres. Repeal Variation 306 solar planning rules, replace wth a simple building envelope or increased solar fence. 

Greens

*Light rail: eventually to run from Gungahlin through to Tuggeranong

*Legalise medicinal cannabis for those suffering chronic or terminal illnesses.

*Create a voluntary euthanasia scheme in ACT, first by revoking the federal Euthanasia Laws Act. 

THE TEAMS so far

LABOR

Chief Minister and Treasurer Andrew Barr

Age: 42

Years in assembly: 9

Prior occupation: chief of staff to ACT Labor minister John Hargreaves

Joy Burch

Age: 60

Years in assembly: 7

Prior occupation: Owner and operator, childcare centre

Mick Gentleman

Age: 60

Years in assembly: 7 (across two stints)

Prior occupation: Executive director, Motor Trades Association ACT

Yvette Berry

Age: 47

Years in assembly: 3

Prior occupation: union organiser, United Voice

Chris Bourke

Age: 55

Years in assembly: 4

Prior occupation: dentist

Mary Porter

Age: 73

Years in assembly: 11

Prior occupation: inaugural CEO, Volunteering ACT

Meegan Fitzharris

Age: 43

Years in assembly: 1

Prior occupation: chief of staff to ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr

LIBERALS

Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson

Age: 48

Years in Legislative assembly: 7

Prior occupation: Lieutenant-Colonel, Australian Army

Deputy leader Alistair Coe

Age: 31

Years in assembly: 7

Prior occupation: Adviser, RSL national headquarters

Shadow treasurer Brendan Smyth

Age: 56

Years in assembly: 17

Prior occupation: adviser to Senator Amanda Vanstone, Peter Reith MP

Steve Doszpot​

Age: 67

Years in assembly: 7

Prior occupation: executive in the information, communication and technology sector

Vicki Dunne

Age: 58

Years in assembly: 14

Prior occupation: adviser to ACT chief minister Gary Humphries

Giulia Jones

Age: 35

Years in assembly: 3

Prior occupation: media adviser to Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella​

Nicole Lawder​

Age: 53

Years in assembly: 2

Prior occupation: Chief executive, Homelessness Australia

Andrew Wall

Age: 31

Years in assembly: 3

Prior occupation: construction company Patio World Building Systems

GREENS

Shane Rattenbury

Age: 44

Years in assembly: 7

Prior occupation: political and business director, Greenpeace International
 

POTENTIAL CANDIDATES

Labor: Education campaigner and former staffer Chris Steel, Belconnen Community Council chairwoman and blogger Tara Cheyne, Mr Fluffy campaigner Brianna Heseltine, former public servant and staffer Kim Fischer, Australia India Business Council president Deepak-Raj Gupta, Canberra City Residents Association president Joshua Ceramidas, ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body member Jo Chivers, public servant Mark Kulasingham, adviser to Andrew Leigh MP Thomas McMahon, John Sherbourne, Rebecca Cody, Suzanne Orr. Mr Barr said nominations for party preselections closed this month.

Liberal: Mr Hanson said he had met a wide range of interested people including those from the community sector, business sector and public servants, as well as some with Indigenous and multicultural backgrounds. Candidates would be announced in first half of 2016. 

Greens: former MLAs Caroline Le Couteur and Meredith Hunter, real estate agent and former candidate Johnathan Davis.  Mr Rattenbury said candidates would be announced within one week.

Independent: federal public servant Andrew Dewson​